How To Successfully Drive A Car In Indonesia

By Mark Wiens 24 Comments

Though this might sound like I’m joking even sarcastic half the time, its actually quite realistic.  Don’t take my suggestions as fact but rather use them as guidelines, something to think about when you rent a vehicle.  Don’t let this stress you out, when you get on the road, you will understand and formulate your own ideas.  Renting a car in Indonesia was quite an enjoyable event for myself and can be for you as well.  However, don’t pretend it is going to be relaxing.

You will be presented with various obstacles on the road.  Things such as a motorcycle with a desk wide ways on the back, a bicycle carrying 10 meter bamboo poles (no red flags), someone pushing a noodle cart and stopping without warning, a dog napping in the middle of the street, a family of 5 on a scooter putt putting along.  Not to be alarmed, this makes driving very interesting.

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Our Rented Suzuki Karimun

These suggestions are not Indonesia exclusive, but quite universal for many developing nations.  The number 1 rule is don’t hit anything. If you can do this (by any means), great!, here are some suggestions for attempting it.

1. Drive Fast

Drive fast to keep up with the other traffic who are also maxing out their engines.  If you drive too slow, the road will be a more hazardous place for you and other motorists.

2. Make Slow Lane Switches

When you want to switch lanes (though there are no lines) slowly scoot over despite what is in your mirror.  What is in the way at the time (motorcycles, pedestrians, dogs, animals, or other cars) will adapt to your vehicle, as long as you are swerving slowly.

3. Don’t Be The First To Stop at a Traffic Light

Often you will have no idea when the light turns green and when to go.  There is no real problem if you are the first to stop, just keep your ears open for the honks.

4. Tailgate

Especially driving through intersections if the light turns orange, tailgate the vehicle in front of you so you make the light, even if it happens to turn red long before you enter the intersection.

5. Overtake

Despite oncoming traffic by way of motorcycles and pedestrians, venture into the oncoming lane without much hesitation.  The bikes and people will move out of the way, often to the very edges of the road.  Its “okay” or shall I say “accepted” to run people off the road.  You will be run off the road a few times as well.

6. Honk

Make sure you toot your horn frequently, but never laying on the horn, only small taps, to let your competitors know you are present.

7. Don’t Panic

If you get on the road and are stressed out by the constant stream of motorcycles swerving in front of you from the left, right (sometimes unknown), just cruise along, acknowledging they know you are there, just don’t make sudden swerves.

Motorcycles will come and go...rapidly
Motorcycles will come and go…rapidly

Everyone  whether they are riding in cars, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, makeshift trucks, customized motorcycles, food cart motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, or wheeled accessories, seem to be floating along despite the noise in a continuous flow of harmony.  Many may prefer a backseat position, but driving can open new options and is great for avoiding “scooter butt.”  As for driving a scooter or motorcycle, there are a whole new set of guidelines.

The bottom line is to do whatever you can to be as safe as possible while avoiding collision with anything or anyone.

I know I didn’t cover it all, please let me know of your suggestions or comments!

-Mark Wiens

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  • صيانة مولينكس

    1 week ago

    Thank you for great content

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    4 months ago

    Just don’t hit anything to avoid a penalty. Thanks for the idea.

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    You should have to look carefully at every road/corner sign. They might be sound confusing but you need to learn them.

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  • flagle

    1 year ago

    Well! That’s so strange when my country steer the car in the opposite direction. Can’t wait to come to Indonesia.

  • Kaca Mobil Depan

    2 years ago

    This post is a very accurate description and with some good points on how to prepare yourself for driving in Indonesia. Took a while to get used to it, as everything seemed chaotic initially, but the everyday life on the road has its own vibes. And sometimes, just around lunchtime, when people are hungry, you will get surprised to see which maneuvers people come up with in traffic.

  • vishal kaushik

    3 years ago

    Very informative post. Thanks for share!!

  • Daniel Watsons

    3 years ago

    That was a great tutorial on how to drive in Indonesia. Next time I travel there, will keep your rules in mind.. Thanks for sharing!

  • Youmi Hapsari

    8 years ago

    Hi Mark, I just wondering; where did you drive in Indonesia? People said if you can drive in Jakarta (Indonesia) then you can drive everywher. LOL

    Btw i like you youtube video. Good job Mate!

  • gadgetboi

    8 years ago

    Traffic Jam IS NOTHING compare to craziness done by motorcycle. This is what happened when you can bring home a motorcycle by just paying less than $50 Down Payment and $60 monthly payment. EVERYONE HAVE ONE! … Damn those Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki for selling their motor “cheaply”.

    The Worst part is the motor owners doesn’t have a learning curve since it’s OK to drive around with your motors without driver’s license, most police don’t bother either checking it.

  • Edward

    10 years ago

    I find it annoying that often drivers at my back honk at me even if there’s a traffic ahead of me or when I’m waiting in a line. It’s just ridiculous. Many seem to not understand the concept of queue. When they see a car stopping/slowing down, they just assume the drive is slow. This is different in developed countries where people know how to queue.

  • GrammarCat

    13 years ago

    I drive every day in Jakarta, and this is right on. I DO use my signals, however, it’s helpful for others – they DO get out of your way, because they’ll need the same favor next time around. Key to it all – never make the mandatory-in-US head-checks – that will take your eyes off the road in front of you for tooooo long, and you can easily rear-end a suddenly stopping car, a slow bajaj, or a man pulling scrap metal that wasn’t there a half a second ago.

    • Mark Wiens

      13 years ago

      Thanks so much for taking a look at this and for the comment!
      Yes, using your signal is a very wise thing to do, and thanks for adding the extra tip! You are right, things move fast and things happen suddenly while driving in Indonesia!

  • Dayne

    14 years ago

    Don’t forget, do not use you’r turn signals while driving. This lets the others know of your intentions, thus allowing them to get in your way and not let you make the lane change, turn, or stop.